Indian Ocean “boat people” crisis sheds light on “Australia’s Gitmo”

Rights advocates are protesting an Australian detainment camp on a remote Indian Ocean island as the “new Guantánamo Bay.” Christmas Island, a full 1,000 miles from the Australia mainland, is currently holding some 1,500 asylum seekers from Afghanistan and other Asian countries. A group of 39 “boat people” from Sri Lanka, rescued by a gas tanker after their makeshift craft sank in Australian territorial waters about 600 kilometers northwest of the Cocos Islands, are currently en route to the island.

The island’s detention center is located deep in the jungle and secured by a 13-foot electrified fence. Having only opened in December last year, the camp has seen almost daily arrivals from asylum seekers, and is approaching maximum capacity. (Global Visas, Nov. 5; Australia Network News, Nov. 4; The Australian, Nov. 3

Australia has previously detained asylum-seekers on remote Pacific islands.

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  1. Riot at Australia’s Nauru detainment camp
    Buildings were torched as hundreds of asylum-seekers escaped detention during riots at an Australian refugee facility on the remote Pacific island of Nauru July 19. Detainees took control of the facility’s immigration processing center and armed themselves with knives and steel bars. Nearly half of the facility’s 500 asylum-seekers escaped. The action ended when a large group of locals descended on the center armed with pipes and machetes, responding to a plea from authorities to help put down the uprising.

    The revolt came the day after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that “boat people” will no longer be resettled in Ausrtilia and all future unauthorized arrivals will be sent to Papua New Guinea for permanent resettlement. Australia runs a second such detention facility on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. Asylum-seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters have have exceeded 15,000 so far this year. (AFP, July 20)

  2. Amnesty: Australia border control abusing asylum-seekers

    Amnesty International (AI) said Oct. 28 that Australia's maritime border control agents have engaged in significant criminal activity, bribery and abusive treatment of women, men and children who are seeking asylum. A new report titled "By Hook or By Crook" shows that in May 2015 Australian officials compensated six crew members who had been taking 65 people seeking asylum to New Zealand US$32,000 and directed them, with the help of maps, to take the people to Indonesia instead. "People-smuggling is a crime usually associated with private individuals, not governments—but here we have strong evidence that Australian officials are not just involved, but directing operations," said Anna Shea, refugee researcher at AI. (Jurist, Oct. 28)